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'Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice'... Or Does It?


In this photo taken Aug. 9, 2017 a strike of lightning lights up the sky over Annaberg-Buchholzer, southeastern Germany. (Bernd Maerz/dpa via AP)
'Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice' ... Or Does It?
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

Lightning is one of the most powerful forces in nature. Scientists describe lightning as a huge burst of electricity between clouds, the air, or the ground.

These bolts of electricity can heat the air around them to temperatures five times higher than the surface of the sun. And that is really hot!

Lightning strikes across the sky in Dresden, Germany, Monday, June 10, 2019. (Robert Michael/dpa via AP)
Lightning strikes across the sky in Dresden, Germany, Monday, June 10, 2019. (Robert Michael/dpa via AP)

When you watch lighting, you know it’s fast. That is why English speakers use the expression lightning speed to describe anything that is super-fast.

A runner can have lightning speed. An Italian restaurant can drop off a nice, warm pizza at your front door at lightning speed. And unconfirmed stories often spread online at lightning speed.

So, lightning is fast; it also can be dangerous. When a thunder and lightning storm starts, it is best to find shelter. Do not stand in an open field.

Lightning flashes as Taal Volcano erupts Sunday Jan. 12, 2020, in Tagaytay, Cavite province, outside Manila, Philippines.
Lightning flashes as Taal Volcano erupts Sunday Jan. 12, 2020, in Tagaytay, Cavite province, outside Manila, Philippines.

Lightning rod

Now, to protect buildings from lightning damage during a storm, you can attach a lightning rod to it. A lightning rod is a long piece of metal. This metal draws lightning away from the building.

People can also act as lightning rods … but in a different way.

They attract attention, criticism and even anger of other people. A lightning rod is someone who becomes the target of criticism to draw attention away from more serious issues or other people.

Issues and even objects can become lightning rods, too. Anything that comes to represent something that people criticize can be called a lightning rod.

When speaking about lightning, we have another common expression:

Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

We use this expression when a very unusual event is not likely to happen again to the same person or in the same place.

It can be used when something good happens, such as winning a game of chance like the lottery. That does not happen very often.

Here is another example. Let’s say your favorite sports team is having a bad year. But they were still able to defeat a much stronger team. However, the next time they face that stronger team, your team might not be so lucky. You know what they say -- lightning never strikes twice.

We also use this expression to say a bad thing won’t happen again. We use this reassure someone, trying to make them feel better.

For example, let’s say you are watching a baseball game and get hit by a baseball in your seat. Your friend might say, “Well, you’re safe now. That cannot happen again! You know, lightning never strikes twice!”

That probably will not make your head feel any better. And you can tell your friend that scientists say that lightning can and will strike the same place twice.

Whether for something good or bad, the underlying truth remains the same: The chances of some unlikely thing happening twice is very small.

And that’s Words and Their Stories for this week. Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo!

Whoever said lightning never strikes twice in the same place
Whoever said miracles can't happen every day
Never felt anything quite like
The way I'm feeling every night
Whoever said that
Would take it all back
If they ever met you

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. The song at the end is Stephanie Beaumont singing “Whoever Said That.”

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Words in This Story

draw v. to cause (attention) to be given to someone or something

reassure v. to assure anew

underlying adj. used to identify the idea, cause, problem, etc., that forms the basis of something

miracle n. something (as an event or accomplishment) that is very outstanding, unusual, or wonderful

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